- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Oct. 31

The Gadsden Times on women in science, technology, engineering and math careers:

Educators and others have long bemoaned the fact that not many women pursue careers in STEM-related fields. For a variety of reasons, some more clear than others, women are woefully underrepresented when it comes to jobs in science, technology, engineering and math.

Manufacturing, which often has a heavy STEM component, is an area where women make up only a small portion of the workforce. Women are 47 percent of the general workforce, but comprise less than one-third of the manufacturing workforce.

The Alabama Technology Center is working to change that. ATN, along with Gadsden State Community College, hosted an event called Girls Employed in Manufacturing last week, giving a group of students from area high schools a look at how a manufacturing operation works and encouraging them to consider manufacturing when making career choices.

The students toured the Inteva plant and heard speakers talk about “lean” manufacturing processes, referring to management practices that eliminate waste and streamline production. They even got to try their hands at some assembly line work. By all accounts, their efforts were successful.

A well-trained workforce is critical to recruiting new industries, Gadsden Mayor Sherman Guyton told the students. He encouraged them to take advantage of career-tech education. Gadsden State President Martha Lavender echoed those sentiments. Her school has formed several partnerships with businesses and industries to meet training needs.

Integrating women into manufacturing or other STEM-related fields will be a slow process. Young women don’t have a lot of role models in those fields, and because there aren’t many women working in manufacturing, some young people are reluctant to consider that as a career path, because the jobs traditionally have been held predominantly by men.

ATN instructor Jon Bowen said it best, however, when discussing the role women can play in manufacturing in the future.

“You can go as far as you want to go,” he told the students. “Women haven’t always had that opportunity.”

The change is long overdue.

Online:

https://www.gadsdentimes.com/

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Nov. 1

The Decatur Daily on blackface:

It’s a safe bet a white Chestnut Grove Elementary teacher had no idea he was dressing for the world stage when he put on a costume designed to look like black rapper Kanye West and painted his skin dark. But the image appeared on his wife’s public Facebook page - she appeared in the picture as West’s wife, Kim Kardashian - and soon it was being reproduced on social media and websites followed by millions.

Decatur City Schools Superintendent Ed Nichols was left with little choice but to address the issue at a news conference, and he wisely decided not to discipline the teacher.

By numerous accounts, the Chestnut Grove teacher is an excellent instructor who strives to help all students, regardless of race.

Viewed in a vacuum, there was nothing offensive about the teacher’s costume. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the teacher’s portrayal of West holding a “Kanye for Prez 2020” sign was innocuous.

Unfortunately, U.S. history does not permit such costumes to be viewed in a vacuum.

One of the early examples of whites painting their skin dark to mock blacks was in the 1830s, when a white performer created the manic character referred to as “Jim Crow.” The caricature was wildly popular among whites, and was particularly disturbing because it made fun of a race that was legally enslaved. For more than a century, variations of the theme were common. “Blackface” is the term used for the insidious form of mockery in which whites darken their skin for comic effect.

A host of “Jim Crow” laws - legislation that actively enforced segregation and limited blacks’ political relevance - still were being passed in the 1960s.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that an Alabama teacher painting his skin black for comic effect would go viral. Alabama has an international reputation for racism. It’s a reputation reinforced recently with the closure of driver’s license offices in predominantly black counties, limiting access to the most common form of photo ID now needed for voting. The Legislature also managed to reinforce the reputation recently by packing as many blacks as possible into the fewest possible legislative districts, limiting their influence in state government and triggering scrutiny from federal courts.

In an informal poll by The Decatur Daily, 91 percent of respondents concluded the uproar over the Kanye West costume was “much ado about nothing,” compared to 9 percent who thought the costume was insensitive. One of the more common statements by those supporting the teacher was that it makes no sense to judge a white person for painting himself black, when a black person could paint himself white without public censure.

The flaw in this argument is that it ignores history. “Blackface” was a method by which oppressors mocked those whom they oppressed. “Whiteface” is not a term, because it holds no such place in the history of U.S. entertainment.

While America has made enormous strides in racial equality, state-supported racism - in the form of “Jim Crow” laws - was alive and well in Alabama 50 years ago. Many people now residing in Decatur went to segregated public schools, sat at the back of the bus, and had to avoid restrooms used by whites. In many Decatur residents’ lifetimes, Ku Klux Klan cross burnings were not unusual, and it was not so long ago that minstrel shows performed by whites pretending to be black were common.

Will the time come when a white person can paint himself black without it being a big deal? Will racism one day be a peculiar historical footnote in a society that has finally achieved racial equality?

Maybe so, but we’re not there yet.

Online:

https://www.decaturdaily.com/

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Nov. 2

The Montgomery Advertiser on Medicaid expansion:

The time for waffling on expanding Medicaid for the hundreds of thousands of Alabama residents who lack health insurance is over.

Gov. Robert Bentley, a physician who should understand the importance of making health care available to lower-income Alabamians, has been moving at a glacial pace toward accepting federal Medicaid expansion dollars through the Affordable Care Act.

Last month he took another baby step forward, saying, though he opposed the ACA, it’s time to move past that and “take the resources we have available,” to improve quality of life for the people of Alabama.

That seemed like a breakthrough, but Bentley then hedged his bets, saying while his administration is looking at a potential Medicaid expansion, “we are not at that stage right now.”

Alabama politicians who get state-subsidized health care may not be at that stage, but ordinary folks suffering because of lack of health care certainly are.

About 139,000 are stuck in a health insurance coverage gap because of the state’s failure to implement the Medicaid expansion, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

They’re mostly working Alabamians who don’t earn enough to qualify for ACA insurance subsidies, but make too much to get Medicaid under the state’s miserly income limit restrictions.

Bentley must take a stand in favor of the Medicaid expansion because convincing the ideologically rigid Legislature to implement such a plan will be a monumental task.

It’s true expansion would cost the Legislature more in the short run. Currently the federal government picks up the expansion tab. In 2017 states will be required to contribute a small percentage of the costs, but never more than 10 percent.

Countering that expense, however, would be the undeniable humanitarian and economic benefits from the expansion. They include a healthier, more productive workforce, job growth in health care fields, and aid to Alabama’s imperiled rural hospital network, now flailing to cover the costs of treating the uninsured.

The Kaiser study also showed that states like Alabama that refused to expand Medicaid took a sucker punch. Their Medicaid costs in 2015 increased at a rate that’s twice as high as that for states that opted for expansion - 6.9 percent as opposed to 3.4 percent.

Other red states have seen the light and moved to provide more of their residents with urgently needed health care.

Stop waiting, Governor. Find the courage of your conscience and convictions, advocate strongly to expand Medicaid and give Alabama’s working poor hope of healthier lives.

Online:

https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/

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